Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'Belfast not so much tale of two cities but of two perspectives'

More than 3,000 loyalists marched through Belfast during an illegal parade the day after the city celebrated Culture Night
More than 3,000 loyalists marched through Belfast during an illegal parade the day after the city celebrated Culture Night

Over the last few months, Belfast has been a tale not so much of two cities but of one city and two perspectives.

Just last month we saw a crystallised example of this. On a warm Friday evening, thousands of people thronged the city centre in celebration of Culture Night 2013, a happening that brings together people of different ages, backgrounds, religions and races to celebrate all that is vibrant and exciting about the city.

The following day in the same streets, a smaller crowd of loyalists gathered and paraded, breaching a Parades Commission determination in the process and ignoring displays telling them their protest was unlawful.

 

The dual occasions showed the stark contrast between the two Belfasts – one facing outwards and keen to move on, looking to build a cosmopolitan, European city that is open and welcoming, and the other which is facing inwards and struggling to move beyond the disputes and arguments which have shaped our past.

That past is an area we have failed to create any real mechanism for dealing with in a way that can in somehow address the issues of both groups and resolve the tensions between them.

Some people think that focusing on it is counterproductive and we should simply draw a line under it and move on.

But without addressing not only the hurt and damage caused, but also the degree to which it influences our tensions and disputes in the present, we move on at risk of repeating mistakes and allowing the future to be a captive to the past.

Addressing difficult and painful issues is not about picking at a wound.

Instead, it is to free us in order to create a better future and therefore it must be focused on healing, reconciliation and building a shared future.

To do that we must address the needs of those most directly affected by the Troubles with generosity, compassion and integrity; however, we must do so in a way which also aids wider society.

The past is complex and multifaceted, meaning any potential progress on finding agreement around it has been slow. It will remain an area without a clear path to navigate out of from unless we ensure reconciliation is promoted at the forefront of all attempts to deal with it. We need to bring victims, relatives and all others together if we want any hope of healing the wounds we have all suffered.
 

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